STEVE KNIGHT/ email@example.com
There are those who believe Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s search for chronic wasting disease within the state is little more than an round-about effort to bring the state’s deer breeding industry to its knees.
Well, that search just took an interesting twist when another white-tailed deer tested positive for CWD. The problem is that this time the deer was outside the high fence, not inside it. It was was found in Medina County in close proximity to where several pen-reared deer on breeder ranches had previously tested positive. More importantly to a lot of hunters is that it was found right in the middle of the Hill Country, one of the most popular deer hunting regions in the state.
“It is in the current surveillance zone which encompasses the northwest quadrant of the county,” said Alan Cain, TPWD’s deer program leader.
Cain said the deer was killed during the regular season by a hunter who voluntarily submitted a brain stem sample for study. The results came back to the department a few weeks ago and provoked an immediate emergency executive order from TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith calling for mandatory sampling and carcass movement restrictions from within the zone that stretches slightly into Bandera and Uvalde counties. It is similar to those orders already in place in West Texas and the eastern Panhandle.
This discovery of the deadly neurological disease found only in members of the deer family in open range in the Edwards Plateau creates more questions than it answers for wildlife and animal health officials.
“Everything in the zone has the potential of being infected by deer from any of the three release sites. I don’t want to speculate how it picked up CWD, but it was close enough we need to consider all the aspects,” Cain said.
To say Cain was being careful in picking his words is an understatement. The CWD issue has created a volatile situation between TPWD and deer breeders in the state, more over the department’s handling of expensive herds within a pen where it has been found rather than concern over the spread of the diseases to the state’s deer population.
On the positive side the department received more than 700 brain stem samples from deer from within the Medina County zone this season with only the one testing positive.
Cain said if the state is extremely lucky the hunter harvested the only infected deer outside the fence and stopped the spread. Unfortunately there is always a chance that others have been infected, but it has not become active in their bodies yet.
TPWD hopes to collect at least 1,000 by the end of the Managed Lands Deer Permit season for a higher statistical confidence factor. Collection numbers should be aided by the executive order that makes it mandatory that each kill be sampled. That order is expected to permanently acted on by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission which will extended it into next season.
“It has the same restrictions as other mandatory zones in the state. If you kill deer you have to take it to a check station. There are restrictions for movement of deer into and out of the zone like breeders or someone using Triple Ts (Trap, Transport and Transplant permit),” Cain explained.
The biologist said the key to deer carcasses transportation rules is that the spinal cord should not be taken outside the zone for fear it will not be properly disposed. An exception is heads for mounts, but even that requires a department permit.
At this point no one knows what happens next in regards to the disease and the deer population within the control zone.
“Everyone should be concerned. If we find more CWD in the free-ranging population the question is do we need to do more sampling. We don’t know if it is established out there. We don’t know if it is established in the population or if the soil is contaminated. We need to do more sampling,” Cain said.
He added there is an added concern in an area like Medina County that has a high deer population.
“We estimate the deer density north of Highway 90 at a deer to 11 acres last year. If you have a high density that obviously creates a problem. The more deer out there the easier it is to spread to the next deer because there is more contact,” Cain said.
This creates several options for landowners and hunters including increasing harvest to reduce density. Other options are to turn off feeders to keep deer from congregating. Cain said those are all individual calls left up to the landowners and hunters.
While there is need for concern there is not a need to stop hunting in the area. To date CWD has not been an issue to human health.
“Some say they are not going to hunt. That is not helpful either. People need money for ranching operation and we need samples,” Cain noted.
While the most intensive survey effort has been in the Medina County area and the two other containment sites identified in the Trans Pecos and western Panhandle, the department has also collected thousands of samples throughout the state. To this point all have proven negative.
Along with Texas CWD has been discovered in free-ranging deer populations in 23 states and two Canadian provinces.
For more information go online to http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/diseases/cwd/ and https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_1942.pdf.